Despite being one of the top causes of disability in the U.S., affecting around eight in 10 people in their lifetimes, back pain is an ailment often misunderstood by those affected, says Philadelphia physical therapist Chris McKenzie.
Such misconceptions, McKenzie adds, can cause those suffering from back pain to seek solutions, potential treatment paths, and even lifestyle alterations that aren’t necessarily in their best interests.
“Back pain can be as frustrating as it is debilitating, especially if past preventative measures and treatments haven’t been helpful,” said McKenzie, owner of McKenzie Sports Physical Therapy in Philadelphia. “This can lead a person down paths that don’t result in the best and most necessary evidence-based treatments.”
Such paths, McKenzie points out, can sometimes lead to treatments that are more expensive or personally invasive – and perhaps even unnecessary – such as MRIs and surgery.
“MRIs, shots, surgery, medication … these are last resort-type treatments,” McKenzie said. “Most back pain issues will go away on their own in a few days. And even when they don’t, most remaining cases can be successfully resolved through safer, more affordable and more effective treatment approaches.”
To help health care consumers make better decisions when considering solutions to their back-pain issues, McKenzie sheds light on the following common back pain myths:
1. Bed Rest Helps with Relief & Healing:
Once a common treatment for back pain, research strongly suggests long-term rest can slow recovery and even make your back pain worse. Instead, treatment involving movement and exercise (i.e., stretches, walking, swimming, etc.) often works better to hasten healing and provide relief.
2. The Problem’s in My Spine:
Back pain can be caused by a wide array of issues throughout the body as well as one’s environment. It can be a response to the way you move when you exercise, how you sit at work, the shoes you wear, the mattress on which you sleep, or simply your body compensating for movement limitations and weaknesses. Back pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “bad back,” or are predisposed to back pain.
3. I Just Need an ‘Adjustment’:
Those accustomed to visiting a chiropractor for back pain issues often claim to find relief from having their spine adjusted, or “cracked.” While this process can release endorphins that offer some temporary relief, only about 10 percent of all back pain cases can actually benefit from spine mobilization. Exercise is often more effective, as is determining and treating the pain’s source. (See item No. 2.)
4. Medications are the Answer:
A popular quick fix, medications should never be viewed as a long-term solution to chronic back pain issues. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help get you through in the short term, but many prescription pain meds can be dangerous, addictive, and even make the pain worse in some instances.
5. I’ll Probably Need Surgery:
Of people experiencing low-back pain, only about 4 to 8 percent of their conditions can and should be successfully treated with surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even 90-plus percent of herniated discs often get better on their own through a combination of rest and physical therapy.
6. I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist:
Multiple studies have concluded that physical therapy is one of the safest and most effective ways to both treat and prevent back pain. And in nearly every state, patients can access physical therapy services without first getting a physician’s prescription.